Tag Archives: Courtney Booker

At last, Kalamazoo 2011… Part III

On the third day of the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies, I appear to have followed almost exactly the same trajectory through sessions as the Medieval History Geek,1 and of course he wrote it up long hence, so you could just read about them at his. Because time is short and space is infinite but this doesn’t mean I should fill all of it, however, I’ll basically just list the papers and give comments where I have anything different to say to what he did, and therefore you may want to read (or re-read) his post first as that will, you know, actually tell you what they were about.

Session 398. Early Medieval History

Antiochene gold solidus of Emperor Maurice Tiberius (584-602)

Obverse and reverse of gold solidus of Antioch in the name of Emperor Maurice Tiberius (584-602), showing (obverse) a bust of the emperor facing with cross on globe and (reverse) Victory standing facing with labarum and cross-on-globe

  • Benjamin Wheaton, “Reasons for Byzantine Support of Gundovald through 584 CE”. What I liked about this paper, which is also common to a lot of late antique history, was that although from the title you’d expect it to be very specific – one year, two polities – of course the reasons for that Byzantine support enmeshed most of the other kingdoms of Europe and what they were doing and one wound up with, not the scheming Byzantine emperor pulling strings all across our map that one sometimes gets from the more `classic’ literature but a picture of Emperor Maurice I receiving the latest unpredictable news from Spain, from Burgundy, from Neustria, wherever, taking stock of it all and rolling out a new plan to try and stay ahead of as much as he knew about developments as best he could. This seems more realistic and more useful as a comparator than the kind of gilded Byzantium-was-always-more-clever paradigm I’ve met in some work.
  • Luigi Andrea Berto, “In Search of the First Venetians: some notes and proposals for a prosopography of early medieval Venice”. I’ve had a kind of bitter interest in the origins of Venice ever since being set an assignment on it that I couldn’t do during my Master’s. The paper here was however more about the sort of problems that one gets trying to database any early medieval dataset than any specific new findings, I thought, and my notes were therefore brief because I’ve met those before.
  • Sebastian Rossignol, “New Perspectives on the Origins of Towns in Early Medieval Central Europe”. This was that slightly dubious thing, a conference paper that is basically cut down from a paper already in publication. This of course means that any feedback the presenter gets cannot profit them at all, so I find it an odd choice to make. I felt, anyway, that although the problems with deciding what is and isn’t a town were well expressed and explained here, they are also something that several people had a decent go at dealing with before I was born, so that it sounded as if Dr Rossignol had laboriously reinvented the wheel.2 Talking to him afterwards I discovered that he did know the Continental side of this literature, but whether it was useful for him to explain it all to us again I am still not sure.

Then lunch and a return to battle, or at least, opposition, with:

Session 455. Early Medieval Europe I

  • Walter Goffart, “An Experimental Introduction to Christianity for Today’s Students of Medieval History”. This, which has been gone into in detail by the Medieval History Geek so do have a look there, was another rather odd thing, since it was a pedogogical paper not a research one, unusual in this context. Also, because he is now free of undergraduate teaching, Professor Goffart was able to be fairly uninterested in suggestions about how he might modify it, because he himself would not need it. This made for a rather odd back-and-forth in questions where he basically implied that interpretation was our problem not his, leaving me with the impression that Holy Writ had just been handed down.
  • Glenn McDorman, “Diplomacy in the Post-Imperial West and the Gallic War of 507-510”. I was not convinced by the central contention of this, which was statedly that there was an agreed set of rules for conducting royal politics in the sixth century and that we can prove it—as with any system based on norms, I want some consideration of the incentives and disincentives not to play and of how the norms are communicated before I am ready to believe—but I thought it did have some value as an analysis of the way that King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths conducted his foreign relations, which might be described roughly as, “everything possible to avoid war but then go in with overwhelming force and without hesitation”. In that light, this paper was about the tipping point between these two states and that way I found it quite enlightening.
  • Gold solidus of King Theodoric of Italy

    Obverse of the gold solidus of King Theodoric of Italy that shows the "invincible" moustache

  • Jonathan J. Arnold, “Theodoric’s Invincible Mustache”. I absolutely loved this paper, not just because it managed to sneak some genuine historical import about unchecked assumptions by historians, fluidity of early medieval ethnicity and so on, past us but because it made really good use of a slideshow and graphics and was thoroughly entertaining. Dr Arnold is a presenter to seek out. How many people have you seen give a paper in which they said, “OK: get ready to have your mind blown” and then not delivered anything exciting? Not this time, and he had an extra slide ready to anticipate the most obvious question; I give him maximum points for preparation and style that Congress.

I think that the coffee in the more modern part of the West Michigan campus come Congress time is a little too hard to reach. The spaces between sessions are generous, but this year as last year I would be talking to people after sessions, go to seek out coffee, get slightly lost, and either only just get the vital caffeine or actually have to give up and run back. Thus, somehow, the sessions I was most likely to be late for this year appeared to be the ones where I didn’t have to change rooms. I seem to have a full set of notes on this next one so I assume that I wasn’t late; however, my notes seem sufficiently grouchy that I suspect I didn’t get the coffee. I apologise in advance to the speakers in this panel, therefore, for what may be a less generous appraisal than they deserved.

Session 511. Early Medieval Europe II

The so-called Tassilo Chalice, preserved at Tassilo III's foundation of Kremsmünster

The so-called Tassilo Chalice, preserved at Tassilo III's foundation of Kremsmünster

  • Jennifer Davis, “Charlemagne and Tassilo in 794: a final encounter”, arguing that Charlemagne’s final display of the deposed Duke Tassilo of Bavaria at court was more a display of power and confidence than a response to any real threat from him or his old duchy.3
  • Courtney Booker, “The fama ambigua of Ebbo, Bishop of Reims and Hildesheim”, arguing that we should consider Ebbo‘s choices and decisions when trying to weigh up his involvement in the deposition of his old master and patron, Emperor Louis the Pious, more than has been done. I would be inclined to agree and found the interpretations persuasive but I thought it was odd that, in a paper that urged us to hear Ebbo’s voice, none of his actual writings got quoted. I’m sure they will be in the print version.
  • Phyllis Jestice, “Constructing a Queen: Adelheid’s Great Escape and the Ottonian Image”. This was another great presentation, full of humour and irony but without ever letting go of the subject, the way that this somewhat unlucky but prestigious Queen of Italy and then Germany was presented and, well, used, by those who attacked her, captured her, married her or wrote about her (the first three groups sometimes being the same people). Even her history was worth claiming, it seems, and Professor Jestice certainly made it worth hearing about.

And then, I believe, the dance, and I also believe that I had failed to make any sensible plans for dinner and that Michael Fletcher, again, obligingly drove us out to town to get something as part of a general mess of collapsing plans that had been made somewhere around the beginning of the mead tasting and fallen apart by the end, can’t imagine why. I do remember that somewhere in that press of mead-bibbers I met, at last, the inimitable and now-unlinkable Jennifer Lynn Jordan, which was of course a delight, but mainly I have to thank Michael for making sure I got fed at the expense of his time and gasoline. By that generosity I was set up for the dance, which was loads of fun even if this time I didn’t have as much freedom (or indeed cause—no Sex Pistols this time) to let my hair down and fling it around as I had last year, because of presenting the next day. Michael and I did clear a reasonable area around us when we undertook to give `Bohemian Rhapsody’ the full Wayne’s World treatment towards close of play, however.4 I was there at the end, but not for long after, and then it was sleep before the last day of the whole shebang.


1. This nomenclature feels awkward, since I have met him and know his name and I don’t think he’s even keeping it secret; but I learnt netiquette in the old days and one of the tenets of the old school was and probably is, “you use the name that someone gives you, because identity on the Internet is meant to be different if someone wants it to be and anyway to do otherwise is kind of like calling someone a liar about their name”. Lacking instruction to the contrary, I’ll stand by that.

2. Edith Ennen, Frühgeschichte der europäischen Stadt (Bonn 1953) non vidi, cit. Martin Biddle, “Towns” in David M. Wilson (ed.), The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England (London 1976), pp. 99-150 at p. 100 n. 4, that Biddle chapter being the basic starting point for this whole deal even now I reckon.

3. Cf. Stuart Airlie, “Narratives of Triumph and Rituals of Submission: Charlemagne’s mastery of Bavaria” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 93-119.

4. Except that we did not pause to recover someone from another party because we were all the party already.

Leeds report 2 (Tuesday 14th July)

This was a bad day for my alarm to fail, but happily nerves had me awake in plenty of time anyway. I didn’t have a lot of choice about which of the first two sessions of the morning to go, you see, as I was running some. I think they went pretty well, now, but I wasn’t sure of that at all at the time, and since one of my speakers was completely out of contact between agreeing to do the paper and turning up ten minutes beforehand I think a certain amount of fraught should be forgiven me. Anyway, those sessions were:

502. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, I: Pushing the Boundaries

Altar slab from the pre-monastic church of Sant Pere de Casserres

Altar slab from the pre-monastic church of Sant Pere de Casserres

  • Georg Vogeler, “Possibilities of Digital Analysis of Medieval Charter corpora
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “How To Take Over An Archive: Sant Pere de Casserres and its Community”
  • Erik Niblaeus, “Cistercian Charters and the Import of a Political Culture into Medieval Sweden”
  • In which Georg told us all to get our documents onto the web and showed us what became possible if this were only done; in which I for the first time modified my paper title and distracted people with pretty pictures to cover the holes in the argument, a trick I learnt from Roger Collins; and in which Erik gave a very sane and interesting paper on something he isn’t really terribly concerned about, leaving us to wonder how powerfully he must have analysed the stuff with which he is.

I wasn’t sure whether coffee would help with the nerves, but finding my last speaker did, and so then we rolled on to…

602. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic, II: Genesis, Production, Preservation and Study

  • Julie A. Hofmann, “Changes in Patronage in Carolingian Fulda: a re-evaluation”
  • Wendy Davies, “Local Priests in Northern Spain in the 10th Century”
  • Alexander Ralston, “The Preservation of Dispute Records in the Medieval Cartulary”1
  • In which Julie alerted us all to the fact that databases don’t really tell you much about groups who are most of their population (such as, for us, men) and suggested smaller questions that would attack the same problems; in which Wendy kept us all interested for twenty minutes with one formula; and in which Alex asked whether our interest in dispute records is really proportional to their importance at the time.

And then I could breathe easily, and more importantly eat lunch and thus damp my adrenaline. I ought, here, to thank all my speakers for making it run so easily and for coping so well with the few problems that there were. If you want an outsider’s critique of the sessions, then the estimable Magistra et Mater has written one. But for me, the bit I had to stay engaged for was now over and I could let other people engage me instead. Now ordinarily it is easy for an early medievalist at Leeds to spend their entire time in the huge ever-growing strand that rules from the centre of the Early Middle Ages, Texts and Identities, which now has its first book out.2 Last year I nearly did; this year it was a rarity, but I first touched base with it for this one…

706. Texts and Identities VI: Louis the Pious and the Crisis of the Carolingian Empire

  • Mayke de Jong, “Charters, Capitularies, and the so-called Crisis of Louis’s Reign”
  • Prof. de Jong has unfortunately had dealings with the wrong sort of diplomatist, charter specialists who don’t want to do history but want to reinforce what they were taught at school with new sources. She offered alternatives.

  • Courtney M. Booker, “Histrionic History, Demanding Drama: theatrical hermeneutics in the Carolingian era”
  • Illumination from the Andria of Terence, a comedy, in Roma, Biblioteca Vaticana MS lat. 3868, fol. 4v, copied c. 820

    Illumination from the Andria of Terence, a comedy, in Roma, Biblioteca Vaticana MS lat. 3868, fol. 4v, copied c. 820

    Apparently Vitalis the mime doesn’t belong in the Carolingian era but Radbertus could get enough drama to write dramatic narrative anyway. Pass it on!

  • Rutger Daniel Kramer, “Stuck in the Middle? Benedict of Aniane and monastic networks in narratives and charters”
  • There’s been an argument since about 1990 that Louis the Pious gave up on his monastic reform policy after the death of Benedict of Aniane because Benedict was really driving it, and Louis;3 here we got the older argument, that Louis was driving Benedict, and some evidence of how he worked, but the big question about why it stopped remained unanswered, for me at least, as the questions disintegrated into a civil but loud argument between Mayke and Stuart Airlie (of whom we have not heard the last) about whether or not 833 was a political disaster for the Carolingian Empire.

And so to tea. Finally, refreshed, it was back to T&I for a rather rarer thing than a session on Louis…

806. Texts and Identities, VII: the formation of an Emperor – Lothar I

  • Elina Screen, “Models for an Emperor: the influence of Lothar’s early career (795-840)”
  • Maria Schäpers, “The Middle Kingdom between 843 and 855: some reflections on the effectiveness and motives of Lothar’s reign”
  • Marianne Pollheimer, “Spiritual Power for an Emperor: Lothar I and the use of Biblical texts”
  • The problem for understanding Lothar I is that except in one poem by a supporter he is the man the sources about the breakup of the Carolingian Empire love to blame. Reconciling this with the evident ability and energy with which he ran his kingdoms, the loyalty of his core supporters and his developed interest in theology has therefore presented some problems, and all these papers wrestled with them in different ways: Elina explored what his royal training might have done for him, Maria’s reminded us that his ability with his own kingdoms didn’t stop him stabbing his brothers’ in the borders, and Marianne suggested that he saw Biblical scholarship as a way to try and create or at least understand the relationship with God which he seems to have deeply felt governed his success. It was interesting, but there’s so much more to do here. I for one am looking forward to Elina’s book.

Then, there was dinner. This was the one day I’d booked dinner in hall, in case the sessions had people clamouring to join in next year: suffice to say that this was not the case, but that the food was better than last year. Then, I attempted to fit a quart into a pint pot by trying to find time for this…

902. Complexity Science and the Humanities: an opportunity to networks – Round Table discussion

    This fell into two parts, the first on social decision modelling and the second on social networks. The whole session was an admirable attempt by scientists to show us what their methods could do and ask us for data and cases to play with. It was also organised by a right comedian and I wished I could have attended it all. I would have been more interested in the latter part but had, nonetheless, to leave before it—Magistra, who was there, has been able to tell us more. What I did get, however, was:

  • Serge Galam, “Modelling the heterogeneous spread of religions”
  • This was probably more interesting as an exercise in mathematics than as a demonstration of anything except how frighteningly weak the models policy-makers use for decision-making are—but, regrettably, we knew that already. However, whatever complexification we could think of Dr Galam was ready to try and add, and it was hard not to believe that if it was built up enough at the end of it one would have a reasonable model. The question was whether it would become chaotic before we got there, which has the worrying corrollary that in that case society is probably also chaotic, in mathematical terms. In that case, kids, I tell you there is something going on that humanity cannot explain with maths because this does not look, this world in which we live, like a chaotic system to me, it looks like many different systems running at once and often producing their designed outcomes. It usually goes wrong very slowly for something that’s chaotic. What’s up with that? I think we are trying to analyse the wrong thing. Maybe there’s no general field theory but many general fields. Dammit. We need more funding! And that was, of course, roughly the point of the session…

  • Edit: Stefan Thurner, “Laboratory for measuring evolution of socio-economical structure in an anti-medieval massive online game”
  • This was of course the portion that I missed, but the purpose of this edit is to advertise that you can now read about it care of Magistra et Mater, and very interesting it sounds as if it was too drat it. I shall have to contact the guy.

However, with some trepidation, I had to leave to try and find bloggers. This too didn’t happen as completely as it might have. I got found by In the Medieval Middle in all its considerable force, and Another Damned Medievalist kept there from being blood (no, OK, I admit it, we sparred but did not fight, they’re actually all really good people, and I understand all of their approaches a lot better for being able to hear them in their own voices now, this being IMM rather than ADM whom I already knew is good people), and for a while there was also Magistra et Mater, but others did not find us. This was at least in part because Magistra and I had completely failed to decide on a single meet-up venue and so this may have confused matters; some have apologised, Gesta was caught by exactly the same kind of session planning tail I’d escaped, and others will remain enigmatic and anonymous, but I had fun anyway. So much so that I missed the Early Medieval Europe reception and hardly cared! (It’s always so hot, anyway…) This day’s Leeds experience was much better than the previous one, though my mood proved mercurial as night fell and I was glad that sleep followed it quickly.


1. Now, class, I’m sorry to see that someone has added in the margin of my notes on this paper the message “♥ Eileen Joy”. I can assure the person who did this that it is neither big nor clever. Miscreants!

2. Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Christina Pössel & Philip Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages (Vienna 2006).

3. The watershed here being the volume of essays put together as Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (Oxford 1990), which is the volume T&I should really be setting up to replace or so I reckon; they have all the necessary material and expertise.